Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is a pretty Marmite topic. Within the industry certainly, it attracts a band of fanatical advocates who insist that getting your website to the top of Google rankings is the be all and end all of digital marketing.
For others, the very mention of SEO is like garlic to a vampire. All of that talk of algorithms, second guessing the search bots, link building, long tail keywords, semantic search and so on is enough to make their lips curl in disgust and look for a swift exit strategy out of the conversation.
For this second group, part of the problem is how opaque the inner mechanics of SEO are. Even the most ardent SEO specialist has to admit that they cannot define precisely how it is search engine ranking algorithms work, because providers like Google just do not release that kind of information freely. It’s all a game of cat and mouse, inference from indirect sources, tweaking and testing by trial and error.
For business owners and brand managers, it can feel like they are being told something different every time they ask for an opinion on SEO. In business, a lack of certainty doesn’t usually play out well because of the desire to avoid risks. In SEO, the perception is often that the risk of making expensive mistakes is high, having to throw good money after bad chasing high rankings that never materialise.
It all starts with search
All such doubts are not without foundation. SEO is not an exact science, there is a certain degree of obfuscation about it, and there are a lot of second-rate service providers out there who have jumped on the bandwagon without really knowing what they are doing.
But if you need proof that SEO is still worth an investment, it is worth looking at some statistics. First of all, the role of search engines in creating traffic for a website in the first place cannot be disputed. An enormous 93 per cent of ‘online experiences’ - i.e. how a user gets to a website - come via a search engine. If you want people to visit your site, search engines are of absolutely paramount importance.
What is equally true is that position in search rankings is just as crucial. Three quarters of people will never look further than the front page of search results. And top spot in search commands a whopping 33 per cent of all click throughs. So if you are not in those top five or 10 search positions for your keywords or topics, you are missing out on the overwhelming majority of potential traffic to your site.
Yes, I hear you say, but I still need proof that SEO will actually get me to those all-important top positions. A frequent complaint is that people shell out good money for SEO, but don’t get the number one ranking. Well, a bit of context helps here, because if you imagine how many hundreds and thousands of results an average search returns, how many of those are actively competing for top spot? SEO is a dog-eat-dog world.
Better value than advertising
The best indicator of the value of SEO is comparison with paid ads on search results pages. You might ask why, with all the uncertainty surrounding SEO, don’t people just buy paid-for listings instead, which sit above the ‘organic’ results anyway.
The stats show that paid-for advertising on search pages is far less effective than SEO. 70 per cent of all click throughs from a search results page are from organic results, while 70 to 80 per cent of users will actively ignore all paid-for ads.
This translates directly to the bottom line - four out of every 10 SEO campaigns result in an ROI of over 500 per cent, which falls to just 22 per cent for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns. And for brands which are selling a product or service online, SEO has a 25 per cent higher conversion rate compared to PPC.
So SEO may well continue to face a battle to win over hearts and minds in the marketing world. But the fact is, for all its quirks and technical obscurity, if you want to get people visiting your site or develop your brand online, the stats say it works.